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Reader riposte: NATO in Asia

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COMMENTS

1 December 2010 10:48

Daryl Morini writes:

I would like to second Peter Layton's comments regarding Dr Benjamin Schreer's excellent article on NATO's Lisbon Summit. This piece seems to observe a narrowing in what Dr Schreer and Dr Benjamin Fruehling had last described as 'differences in core strategic interests' between Australia and NATO. Even if NATO did not go global this month, it has embraced global partnerships as never before.

Peter Layton's reader riposte brings up some extremely interesting points in complement to Schreer's analysis. Firstly, thanks for pointing out that NATO's Article V guarantees technically extend to an area under 1500km northeast of Brisbane. It's an easy one to forget, even for New Caledonians.

The local referendum on auto-determination is scheduled to take place between 2014 and 2018. No matter the result, however, local leaders of most political stripes, whether Republican or independentist, don't seem to be questioning the fact that France (and thus NATO) would need to remain in the picture to ensure New Caledonia's territorial defence for many years to come. On this front, there is room for more cooperation with Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps even a United States searching for ways to re-engage in the South Pacific.

Layton's last point about NATO-Russia relations is perhaps the most important for Australia's relations with NATO, and one which appears to be generally under-appreciated in Canberra. Russia joining NATO would be the biggest thing since 1990, when a united Germany joined the alliance. But is it likely' To be sure, I am a proponent of Russia seeking closer cooperation with, if not integration in, NATO.

However, we need to be mindful of the heavy strategic issues surrounding any further NATO enlargement. For one, the most pressing question is whether Russia's entry would break the Alliance, either because of inter-Allied divisions on Russia (which weren't solved by Lisbon), Moscow's historical divide-and-rule strategy with the Europeans, or because of the China factor. As Dmitri Trenin argued, the question should not only be whether Russians want to join the West, but whether 'NATO members would want to get bogged down defending its new NATO member along the 4,300-kilometer Russian-Chinese border in the event of a military conflict between the two countries.' Whether NATO's military credibility could be stretched that wide is questionable.

An interesting prediction of these up-coming problems was made in a 1998 article by Bruce Russet and Allan C Stam. These authors foresaw the global strategic dimension of NATO's potential enlargement to Russia. Failing to anchor Moscow to the West, they argued, would lead to a Russo-Chinese alliance. For all its mysteries, that is at least partly what the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is. Contemporary readers may rightly shudder at hints of Western triumphalism, and Fukuyaman end-of-history shenanigans, expressed in Russett and Stam's belief that NATO's global expansion would 'constitute a triumph of Western ideology and of Western power and organisation.' The same goes with the idea that NATO could become a parallel United Nations with 'military teeth', which is exactly what Russia dislikes about the more 'global' Atlanticist aspirations.

But Russett and Stam did have some interesting ideas about China, including that (a) NATO enlargement to Russia should carefully be framed so as not to needlessly antagonise China by appearing like Cold War containment; (b) Chinese balancing against an expanded NATO with Japan and India is unlikely to work (they correctly predicted that Japan would align with NATO as Chinese economic and military power blossomed); and (c) 'NATO should expand to include anyone who meets the criteria, most certainly Asians, and especially the Chinese.'

In truth, NATO is not about to expand to Russia, let alone China, anytime soon. NATO's scope of operations, even if not territorial border, has certainly shifted further East than the Ural Mountains. But whether even limited NATO enlargement will continue remains to be seen. Remember Georgia'

Although the new Strategic Concept reiterates NATO's Open Door principle and reaffirms its April 2008 Bucharest Summit commitment, at Lisbon the Alliance only pledged to 'continue and develop the partnerships with Ukraine and Georgia...taking into account the Euro-Atlantic orientation or aspiration of each of the countries.' That pretty much disqualifies Ukraine for membership, at least in its current incarnation. As for Tbilisi, Georgian officialdom cannot have failed to notice that their partnership with NATO was missing the all-important adjective 'strategic', which NATO hopes to develop with Russia. In other words, NATO has paradoxically just slowed enlargement plans to a standstill, whilst embracing global partnerships further afield.

What does this mean in practice' It simply means that NATO has chosen a pragmatic and hard-headed approach over that of a globalised, evangelical, democracy-promoting tool of Western ideology. NATO will not seek to convert the world into a liberal-democratic reflection of itself, but will instead engage with such organisations as the SCO in cooperating in Afghanistan and, perhaps, the Asia-Pacific. This means that Australia now has a stake and some limited leverage in positioning itself between NATO and the SCO, as others have argued.

Canberra must embrace NATO's pragmatic turn, and all of the benefits which it presents — an unthreatening extra-regional strategic partner, dealing with a rising China and India alongside Australia, providing security community-building advice, crisis-management support and, one never knows, maybe logistical and intelligence assistance to Australia in the event of regional war.

That being said, Australia should seek more information from NATO on how likely or unlikely the Alliance's enlargement to Georgia, Ukraine and Russia is to proceed within the next 10 to 20 years. That would truly be a game changer in Asia-Pacific security dynamics, as Layton convincingly argued. It is a possibility we must keep an eye on.

 

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